places to live in SF/Oakland/Berkeley that feel safe?
May 12, 2024 2:08 AM   Subscribe

I live in Oakland, CA and would like to move somewhere in the Bay that feels safer during the day and at night. I am a single Asian woman. Please recommend some neighborhoods?

Context: I got violently mugged in Oakland a year ago, and haven't felt safe living there ever since, despite living in one of the nicer neighborhoods by the lake. My social life feels really constrained because it's really hard for me to figure out how to get back home after a night out without taking Lyfts all the time. Oakland feels incredibly empty after sundown and almost no one feels safe being out alone at night. I've had too many weirdly violent close calls in public, or on public transit (particularly BART) at non-rush-hour times. I've talked to people of all races who don't feel safe in Oakland (including POC Bay Area natives).

Looking for recs for places to move in SF/Oakland/Berkeley that fit the following:

* ok to carry stuff around without too much fear of being mugged, and walk around by myself at night (like 7-11p, not too much later than that) and during non-rush-hours
* quiet at night (I'm a light sleeper) -- can't be too close to MUNI, it will wake me up
* $1000-1800 a room, the lower the better!
* decent commute to Mission or downtown SF (I don't have a car)
* good access (via public transit) to cultural life (theaters, bookstores, community spaces)

Nice to haves
* diverse, and not entirely a tech enclave. I prefer to be around some queer folks, POC, artists, community organizers
* close to nature
* nice neighborly vibes
* not entirely a settled-family neighborhood -- would be good to be around folks in their 20s and 30s

Random bonus question: If it's not possible to achieve this combination of characteristics in the Bay Area, where else in the US is it possible? Honestly willing to move.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm answering this in the middle of the night, so I apologize for omitting all the detail it would've been nice for me to include!

I'd recommend central Berkeley, particularly just north of campus as well as over by North Berkeley BART, up into Albany and around Solano avenue.

I bet Alameda has quite a few places that would otherwise be a good fit but won't have an easy commute unless your schedule aligns perfectly with the ferry.

I can't speak to the city very well, but I bet the Richmond and probably most of the Sunset fit your bill.
posted by knucklebones at 2:41 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

With the disclaimer that it has been 15+ years since I lived in the Bay Area, I really liked living in Concord, if you're willing to go farther out on the BART line. It had a bit of a Pittsburgh vibe. I still have fond memories of a certain Thai restaurant on Todos Santos Plaza.
posted by Rhedyn at 7:17 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]

In San Francisco: Inner Sunset along Irving between Stanyan and 19th; the Inner Richmond along Clement between Arguello and Park Presidio Blvd; the Upper Haight/Haight-Ashbury between Baker and Stanyan.
posted by niicholas at 7:40 AM on May 12

Lived in SF (near Buena Vista Park) for 1.5yrs and have been visiting friends in neighborhoods across the Bay for 2 decades. None of us felt consistently safe enough that your boxes would be ticked (and most have moved away now due to worsening personal safety and costs), so focusing on your bonus question...

Smaller, college-y towns across the country are it, my friend! Strongly recommend Madison, WI (the nature is lakes, you gotta like lakes), Boulder, CO, Flagstaff, AZ, and Bend, OR. They have excellent outdoor activities/nature, they have people who are diverse and friendly, crime is low, there's stuff going on that's interesting, there are quality resources for the community, and you can get around fairly easily walking and with a bike/public transit in all these. A car would help for accessing more nature nearby.

And of course, NYC would meet all your needs, especially if you're willing to have roommates. Anywhere in Manhattan, most parts of Brooklyn, most parts of Queens.

Yes, the Bay has good weather and incredible scenery going for it, but pretty much everything else is a letdown. Once you live anywhere else, you'll be amazed by how much better it can be!
posted by luzdeluna at 8:10 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]

I'm going to recommend the neighborhoods around the North Berkeley Bart and north Berkeley in general. The "Gourmet Ghetto" area may be what you're looking for. It's not 100% crime-free, but so far it's been insulated from much of what's plaguing Oakland, partly because it's nowhere near the freeway. It's not a tech enclave at all, thank goodness, but rather lots of grad students, some families, and a sprinkling of everything else. It's blissfully quiet at night (except at the beginning of the school year and the end of the school year, when there are a few parties. But one the semester gets underway, that nonsense stops and you can hear the owls hooting softly at night.) You *do not* want to live south of campus, by the way. That's undergrad territory and it's LOUD. From the epicenter of north Berkley, say, Chez Panisse, it's a 15-20 minute walk to the downtown Berkeley Bart and about the same to the North Berkeley Bart. Multiple bus lines on Shattuck and on Euclid, two walkable grocery stores, a host of restaurants, and more. You can catch a bus into Tilden Park or ride a bike (uphill) to get there. I'm not up to date on rents, though, so I don't know if your budget matches the area.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 8:38 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]

I visited a friend in Alameda last fall, she's a POC who moved there from Oakland and loves it, she feels safe and welcomed.
posted by mareli at 8:39 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I also think you’re looking for Alameda, or possibly North Beach/Nob Hill.
posted by samthemander at 8:44 AM on May 12

Answering your bonus question to say that if I were in your shoes, I'd consider moving. I'm a woman who has thought about this before, and personally, I decided that not being able to walk alone at night is a total dealbreaker for me. You deserve to feel and be safe when walking alone at night!

As ever, I'm going to put in a plug for Philly, which I would argue is one of the most underrated cities in America. You can definitely find rooms downtown for around $1000. You can probably find a few studios downtown for $1000, and definitely for around $1200. I walk around everywhere downtown, river to river, all hours of the day up until around midnight and generally feel very safe. Because it's such a pedestrian-heavy city, there are usually some (and sometimes lots) of people on the streets until at least midnight, which to me is comforting. Tons of diversity in various respects, including race, sexuality, and class. The latter is actually one thing I especially like about Philly: unlike most cities in America, you can get a house downtown for under a million (you can even get one for under $400k/500k if it's small and you're looking in the right spot). So I end up with much more economically diverse neighbors than I had when I lived in Boston, or when I stayed in NYC or SF/Berkeley for research. My neighbors here are so great: I live right downtown and they'll spontaneously take in a package for me if I'm out, I have neighbors who have lived here for 50 years so it doesn't feel as transient as other cities, and they throw several fun little neighborhood parties per year, so there's a huge community feel. Out of all the US cities, I'd contend that Philly has the easiest access to cultural amenities: there's tons of music and theater, all within maybe 20 minutes' walk or bike/subway of me (and most within 5 minutes' walk). I do cultural activities at least weekly and walk to all of them. As a historic city, Philadelphia is also extremely beautiful in terms of architecture. And Fairmount Park is the largest urban park in the nation, and there are lots of other beautiful parks within walking or biking distance (personally, I LOVE the Schuylkill River Trail!). I'm not saying Philly is perfect: it suffers from some of the same problems as other major US cities, especially drugs and homelessness since the pandemic. But my understanding is that the situation is much less bad here than on the West Coast. It was a while ago, but I visited Oakland and Berkeley and remember feeling MUCH less safe than in Philly (and also feeling like the whole area was overrated, although that's obviously completely subjective). Happy to chat further or show you around if you want to come and see what it's like!
posted by ClaireBear at 8:56 AM on May 12 [5 favorites]

Seconding North Berkeley/Gourmet ghetto area. I live there and feel pretty safe walking at night.
posted by The Toad at 9:42 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]

As someone who currently lives in Berkeley, this is an active conversation I have with friends. I live in north Berkeley now. I'm an Asian guy, add many grains of salt. I have first-hand experience in the following neighborhoods (and I did live in the area southeast of Lake Merritt). Message me if you have more questions!

For the area north of Hearst and Shattuck, up to Rose in the north, and as far west as Sacramento/Chestnut St:
As far as public transit goes, my partner has to commute to downtown SF near Salesforce Tower 4 times a week, and it's not been going well. She has a no bart after 7p rule since it can become uncomfortable/unsafe feeling. Downtown Berkeley bart is all right, north berkeley bart adds to the commute time.

The neighborhood is nice; younger folks and grad students live in the flats, and older (whiter) folks live in the hills. Fingers crossed, I haven't had a window broken yet. There are lots of folks walking around during the day on Saturday, and during late-night walks, you don't encounter many people (north of heart). The neighborhood is quiet, and I'm a light sleeper.

For West Berkeley/South Berkeley (the block bordered by MLK/dwight/sacramento/ashby): It's full of single family homes. Not a lot of folks walking around at night and more diverse. Walking to Berkeley Bowl and the stores around it is nice. I also briefly lived in the neighborhood to the east of Berkeley Bowl (near Sylvia Mendez Elementary), and it's nice and quiet at night.

For the area south of Ashby Bart (Shattuck/Ashby/Telegraph/Alcatraz): I lived there 10 years ago, and back then, it felt quiet enough to walk around late at night. I see lots of folks walking from Ashby Bart during commute hours. It's easy to take a bus down Telegraph to get to Oakland Uptown.

For the area north and south of rockridge bart (alcatraz / telegraph / 50th and the areas near College Ave on the south side of the freeway): I really liked living in this area, rockridge bart is a nice station and College Avenue has lots of foot traffic, since restaurants stay open a little later here. It's also nice to only be one stop away from Macarthur. I lived in this area for the last 5 years. You can hear the freeway if you live too close to it.

Regarding neighborhoods in San Francisco:
Duboce triangle / lower height is where my partner is trying to get a new rental. She's a small woman as well and lived there pre-pandemic. Market Street has deteriorated since pre-pandemic, but it's offset by all the foot traffic to the Castro. It's loud on Market Street itself, but she was lucky enough to live in one of the newer buildings, so the soundproofing was decent. It is very reasonable to walk to the mission, and the muni is an easy ride into downtown.

Noe valley is quiet and full of couples and it's a little harder to get to places (muni is harder to get in and out). I wouldn't recommend dogpatch/potrero hill/soma. The caltrain is reaaaal loud.

Inner sunset / cole valley/nopa might fit the bill for you as well. They're sleepier neighborhoods. A friend of mine takes muni from near UCSF to soma 3 days a week.
posted by just.good.enough at 10:20 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]

Answering your bonus question to say that if I were in your shoes, I'd consider moving. I'm a woman who has thought about this before, and personally, I decided that not being able to walk alone at night is a total dealbreaker for me. You deserve to feel and be safe when walking alone at night!

I agree. I'd feel so trapped in your situation. I sense an apologetic undertone in your question, but, honestly, you don't have to apologize. You were mugged. If that's destroyed your sense of safety in your environment, you have every right to move.

Philly is definitely underrated (and has more transit than people realize), though not generally known for being quiet. Ann Arbor might fit your bill, but you'll most likely need to own a car even if you're able to do most of your errands on foot. As I'm sure I don't need to tell you, NYC has its tradeoffs that need to be weighed carefully, but strategic choice of neighborhood might serve you well. The Upper West Side north of 96th and below Columbia can be less expensive for renting and is a lot more diverse than it is ten blocks south. It's probably the most "neighborly"-feeling of all the places I've lived in the city, but the students keep it from being too sedate.
posted by praemunire at 11:05 AM on May 12

The Glen Park Bart stop takes you to Glen Park (duh) which is both a neighborhood with a "village" vibe and a magnificent park, Glen Canyon with open lawns, hiking trails, a rec center, and steep cliff sides where lots of folks go bouldering. It's HUGE and many San Franciscans have no idea it exists.

Glen Park and the surrounding area (the Sunnyside) are low key neighborhoods, more residential than retail, but quiet and literally a 5 minute Bart ride to 24th and Mission.
posted by jasper411 at 9:00 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I get it; shortly before I moved away a year and a half ago, I was walking home in Adams Point at like 9 pm and some guy was attacking another guy with a golf club across Grand Avenue and I thought y'know, nope.

Alameda's a weird answer here, terrible for public transit, not near nature or culture, commute to the Mission would involve getting to the ferry, taking the ferry, and then getting to your job. People do it, but anywhere else, it's not considered a good commute. But, acknowledging my bias, this is the whole story of the bay area for me: act like everything is the best anywhere to justify the cost and inconvenience. Anyway, Alameda seems fine with a car but without....not so good. And like...not a ton of artists I don't think.

I don't know what your list leaves you. I don't know SF at all but in the east bay maybe....Berkeley not too far from campus and not too far off Telegraph? You've got Berkeley Rep, Moe's...if I had the money and had to live in that part of the world again, I think that's maybe where I'd go.

If you're looking elsewhere and are ok with cold, I think there's a lot of Chicago that meets a lot of these criteria. Not so much with nature, but that's going to be the problem most places that tick the other boxes.
posted by less-of-course at 11:15 PM on May 12

Thirding North Berkeley and even Norther to Albany or Kensington. Solano Ave has some culture.
posted by notyou at 7:29 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

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